Last night, just to keep this in perspective, the Twins lost 14-6. All hail the Royals, who deserve credit for the clobbering, but the real story was the bleakness of Minnesota pitching. We needed five pitchers to drag through the game, and only one of them pitched more than two complete innings.
It was such an ugly game, I literally looked away—turned it off the TV and followed it, preoccupied, on the radio until the fun finale: Brendan Harris hitting an adorably useless solo home run in the bottom of the ninth while behind by nine runs.
Bad games are one thing, but this was the kind of loss that rocks you to the core. The abject failure of starter Nick Blackburn and the entire bullpen (until Jose Mijares brought some order in the seventh) raises concern about the rest of the season. Explain, exactly, how the Twins are going to weave their way into the postseason with a rotation of Blackburn, Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, Scott Baker, and Anthony Swarzak.
Well, one answer popped up promptly today. Liriano pitched seven super-solid innings, collecting eight strikeouts while allowing three hits and one walk. Among those scant hits was a home run in the first, from Willie Bloomquist.
We must file it under "fluke," as it was his fourth dinger of the season.
Lirianio retired 12 in row at one stage, and was never under pressure. The Bloomquist blast in the first was bookended by strikeouts, and Liriano had nearly a 3-to-1 strike-to-ball ratio while throwing 91 pitches. It was paint by numbers pitching—the sinker had nasty movement, the pitch choices confounded the hitters, and catcher and pitcher were in a groove.
Liriano had both location and velocity working perfectly for him. Which made me wonder: how does it feel to have a whole game go your way, as Liriano’s did tonight?
For that matter, how does it feel to be part of a batting order that scores five runs on five consecutive hits, with two outs no less? In the first, the Twins had an emphatic reply to the lone Royal homer. Royals starter Brian Bannister had a rocky night, but the Twins did their main damage in the first.
Joe Mauer shot a single to left to keep his magnificent batting average ticking on upward. Justin Morneau knocked in a matching base hit, and the M&M boys waited on first and second to see what the rest of the batting order could do with two outs.
Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer stayed with the Cavalcade O’ Singles theme, each notching an RBI. But I don’t know—sometimes you just have to bust out of these patterns.
Joe Crede, laced with cortisone for his balky shoulder, crushed a homer to left to add three more runs. The Twins were playing happy, effortless baseball and enjoying every little moment of their win.
They scored two more in the fourth, Liriano kept up his attack on the strike zone, Matt Guerrier pitched a scoreless eighth, and Joe Nathan got to strike out the side in the ninth.
The central truth of baseball is that it’s a pleasant game laced with endless opportunity for failure. Tonight, when the hits came when they were needed and the pitches shut the opposition down, it was easy to forget how hard baseball is. It looked simple, even sweet.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox stymied the division-leading Tigers for the second straight night. Minnesota is now four games back, even with their lousy 55-58 record. They have the White Sox to worry about too, and need three games to catch them.
If they play like they did tonight, overtaking Detroit and Chicago is entirely feasible. But the starters and bullpen don’t look to have quite this much polish in them consistently. Even Liriano is no sure bet five days from now—this game may be a high water mark instead of a turning point.
A baseball season has the perfect suspense of a long, long series of very small events. Predicting is folly. The actual baseball aptitudes of the Twins roster are enough to allow many more games like tonight. And many more like last night, too.
Will they keep alternating, like a long S.O.S. signal, these wins and losses? Three games below .500 suggests that the great win streak really never will happen. But why predict? Why predict when the evidence we have, the evidence from which we’d try to build a prediction, says only one thing: you never know.